Culture > Books

Books: The fictional Antichrist

Books | Does Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins's bestseller reduce Christianity to a comic book?

Issue: "Chaos in Colorado," May 1, 1999

Christians yearn for the Christian book that breaks through into the secular market, a book so significant that non-Christians have to read it, bringing the gospel and the biblical worldview to the secularized. Finally, a Christian book is dominating The New York Times Bestseller List, which usually excludes titles from Christian publishers no matter how well they sell. This book is in all the bookstores, from Barnes & Noble to the exclusive shops polled by the Times. The book is Apollyon, by well-known Christian minister Tim LaHaye and veteran writer Jerry B. Jenkins. Together they have produced TV for readers, filled with rapid-fire images that result in a collage of fragmented pictures. This is the fifth in the "Left Behind" series of novels, which are set in a seven-year tribulation period between the "rapture" and the second coming of Christ. There is even a children's version called Left Behind: The Kids. The perspective, of course, is premillennial and pretribulation, an eschatology that is enormously controversial among Christians, but which outsiders reading the book will assume is "the" biblical teaching. Apollyon's plot centers on the exploits of Rayford Steele, an airplane pilot who survives the rapture and comes to Christ. With a group of friends he forms the Tribulation Force, a kind of born-again Mod Squad dedicated to opposing the sinister forces of the Antichrist. So why is Apollyon on The New York Times Bestseller List? Obviously, the advent of the year 2000 is striking an unsettling chord among many, as new centuries historically have always done. The millennial end-of-the-world hysteria is being expressed in secular terms with the Y2K scare (justified or not). It is also awakening religious scares (which is an opportunity for Christian witness). But, though Christian witness is undoubtedly Mr. LaHaye's purpose, the characters are so comic-book-like and the novel itself so poorly written-maybe earlier books in the series were better-that serious theological concerns end up trivialized. C.S. Lewis wrote science fiction that was readable by ordinary readers yet still delivered a profound theological punch. Literary critics have often bashed Frank Peretti, but his recent writing and thinking show a desire to improve his craftsmanship (see World, Oct. 25, 1997; July 4, 1998). Apollyon, sadly, is so much one cliché after another that it seems unlikely to help readers picking up "the Christian bestseller" to think anew about Christ. God may use it and other books in the series, as He uses other humble products, but shouldn't we expect better from the worldview that produced Shakespeare and Milton?

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